There’s nothing quite like hearing a familiar Jewish song. It reaches through to the heart, gets the toes tapping and turns the corners of the lips into a big smile.
The gift of music is reaching Jewish patients of Suncoast Hospice, thanks to a new program, “The Jewish Music Project. Kol Rina: Sounds of Joy,” which aims to improve patients’ lives by introducing songs that instill feelings of comfort and memories of tradition.
Kelly Siegel, community partnership specialist at Empath Health, and Stacy Orloff, Empath Health vice president of innovation and community health, are behind the Jewish Music Project. Funding for the project was provided through a grant from the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties.
Hospice patients are given a twohour playlist of music, spanning various genres including Broadway, holiday, comedy, folk, Israeli, Klezmer, Yiddish and more. The program is available for patients staying at home, in assisted living facilities or in skilled nursing homes.
“Not everyone is comfortable talking about their feelings,” said Orloff. “We knew that providing music would help some of our patients internally reflect upon their feelings and consider special moments in their lives. Plus, we just wanted them to enjoy listening to Jewish music.”
Some songs in the playlist include a Barbra Streisand rendition of “Avina Malcheinu,” “Sunrise Sunset” by Theodore Bikel and a comedy routine called “Bagel & Lox” by Rob Schneider.
The playlist was developed with the help of Rabbi Aaron Lever (Menorah Manor), Rabbi Danielle Upbin (Congregation Beth Shalom of Clearwater), Cantor Laura Berkson (Temple B’nai Israel of Clearwater) and Steve Schwersky (retiring host of Sunday Simcha on WMNF-88.5 FM).
The music playlist is downloaded onto MP3 players and distributed to Jewish program participants, along with a pamphlet that explains the project and lists song names, artists and genres. A couple weeks after patients receive their music, Siegel and the hospice team check back in with them to evaluate the program’s effectiveness.
Since the start of the program in April, Siegel has heard stories about patients finding joy and comfort in the music.
“This gift is allowing families to engage in memorable and joyful conversations,” said Siegel. “These conversations are beyond, ‘Are you comfortable?,’ or ‘How are you feeling?’ It allows the family member to have a conversation that recalls good memories and creates new memories.”
Orloff added, “The program has helped our patients share life stories, special memories and hopes and dreams for their family members’ futures. The music provides another way for families to communicate together. Words are not often needed to convey love.”
Siegel has also received words of appreciation from program members and suggestions for songs to add to the track list.
“Families sound genuinely excited when I call to offer the gift,” said Siegel. “Everyone likes to feel special. The program recreates joyful memories and allows them to be shared.”
Because Jewish music is an integral part of the faith and culture, listening to it has the power to transport people to different times and places, reminding them of traditions, culture, history and roots. Revisiting these memories through music can comfort patients, no matter their current level of involvement in the Jewish community, according to the Kol Rina pamphlet that Siegel distributes to all patients in the program.
The music also benefits patients by alleviating some psychological and social stress. The Jewish Music Project also helps patients in terms of memory recall, mental stimulation and management of pain, anxiety and depression,
“Anything to help the patient is worth it,” said Siegel.
While the MP3 players are only distributed to hospice patients, Siegel is happy to share the musical playlist with anyone who is interested. She can be reached at KellySiegel@EmpathHealth.org.